HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — Phil Dalhausser is not yet retired. Nor does he seem particularly close, despite all of the signs these past few seasons that he was on the cusp of joining so many of his peers — Jake Gibb, Nick Lucena, John Hyden, Casey Patterson, among other notables from his talented generation — in doing just that. At 42 years old, playing part-time, practicing sometimes just once a week at his home in Orlando, Fla., Dalhausser is still considered by most players on the AVP as the best blocker in the United States.
Typically it takes time for legends to sprout and take root. Years of retirement for the usual apocrypha to spin. And yet, despite his towering presence still being very much felt on the AVP, the Legends of the Thin Beast have already begun being told.
Take Theo Brunner spouting tall tales of Sunday Phil, a man who could take over a match on a whim, whenever he so chose. Or Adam Roberts, regaling the days when Young Phil would dominate pickup basketball games in Myrtle Beach, canning free throw after free throw.
“You ever see that Bo Jackson documentary? Where Bo was 17, he jumped over the Mississippi River?” Dalhausser said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “It’s a little exaggerated. It was nice words, so I appreciate that.”
Dalhausser is still very much the same Phil Dalhausser who will go down as one of the greatest beach volleyball players of all-time, and will be forever mentioned in endless debate over who is the GOAT. Yet 2022 Phil, a man who still won two AVPs and made another three Sundays, was undeniably different. Playful, in a way.
“I’d been doing the same thing: Left side, blocker, boring,” he said. How better to spice things up than to begin his year as the very antithesis of the man who had been the most dominant player in the game for the previous 15 years, as a right side split-blocker with Andy Benesh in Austin — and then win the dang thing?
“I’m a free agent. It keeps it interesting,” he said with a laugh. “I had a lot of fun with Andy.”
That much was evident in Austin, just as it would be evident throughout the remainder of a whimsically brilliant season for Dalhausser. He’d crack up at Casey Patterson’s nonstop chatter in the players box and on the court, placing the perfect final cherry on top of the 42-year-old defender’s career when they won in New Orleans, fulfilling Patterson’s long-time designs of playing — and winning — with Dalhausser. He played in tournaments with his good friend, John Sutton, even when he knew he wouldn’t win, that winning a few matches would ultimately be deemed a success.
If boring was the word most often associated with Dalhausser at his peak alongside Todd Rogers, 2022 Phil was anything but. Suddenly, the typically stoic introvert was skyballing in Atlanta, laughing himself into stitches. He was running clinics with April Ross, talking trash with his kids at the Phil Dalhausser Academy.
He is, in fact, having the time of his life, playing in whatever he wants, with whomever he wants, enjoying the game in a new light — and still winning while doing so.
“I was thinking ‘Well, the only way I know how to make money is to play ball, so what can I do?’” Dalhausser recalled thinking when he initially considered the notion of retiring. “The only thing I know is beach volleyball.”
Oh, does he. To talk beach volleyball with Dalhausser is to speak with one of the sharpest minds in the sport, one made softer, perhaps, with his most competitive days behind him. He’s turned reflective in a way, a ready role model should players ever ask for a bit of advice. In Denver, he volunteered blocking tips prior to my ninth-place match, tips that wound up helping JM Plummer and I win and head into the winners semifinals, locking up a main draw spot in Fort Lauderdale. On the podcast, he gushed about the defense of Kristen Nuss, whom he compared to Olympic gold medalists and sure-fire Hall of Famers in Misty May-Treanor and Laura Ludwig.
He nudged Taryn Kloth to face her target when transition setting, an element he believes could make one of the most formidable teams in the United States even better. He wondered how good Sean Rosenthal, whom he called “the most talented beach volleyball player I’ve ever seen,” could have been, should Dalhausser have required them to lift together.
He slightly admonished himself for the way he handled his partnership with Rosenthal, and everyone else he played with prior to this year. Not in a biting way, but in a “If I could do this over again, I would do it differently,” while realizing that, no, not even Phil Dalhausser, the Legendary Thin Beast, can time travel.
“Now that I’m older, more mature and whatever, I realized that I wasn’t a very good teammate. Part of beach volleyball is being a good teammate,” Dalhausser said. “I was very in the Todd Rogers camp of I do my work, you do your work, we come on the court, do our thing, and that’s it. If I was struggling, Todd would bury me, and I bet he would say the same thing. It definitely rubbed off on me.
“I played with Rosie after Todd, and a good teammate would have said ‘Rosie I’m going to the gym, you’re coming with me.’ Obviously I didn’t. With Nick [Lucena], sometimes I’d just be annoyed: Just shut up, give me three points to be quiet. But instead, I could have been giving it back to him. That’s what he’s looking for, getting in his face. But hindsight is 20/20.”
He’s as calm as ever when he makes these admissions, understanding that the past is the past, and the only thing he can control is to mold this younger generation to be a bit better than he was in the elements of the game he feels he fell short. When asked if the upcoming Paris qualification schedule offered any intrigue, he responded with a laugh and a quick shake of the head. The game has changed and evolved, and when Dalhausser watches Sweden’s David Ahman and Jonatan Hellvig jump-set and option their way to three consecutive Beach Pro Tour medals — bronze in the Maldives, gold in Dubai, silver in Cape Town — he wants nothing to do with it.
“The style that’s going to neutralize the big blocker is that crazy offense they’re running, and I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with that,” Dalhausser said. “Miles Partain is already enough for me. I hate that. I just want my one guy I have to deal with, not ‘Is he going? I don’t know.’ And then for Miles and Paul [Lotman], they run that flat set out to the pin, so in that situation you want to be already out on the pin waiting for it, not be in the middle flying out there. It’s a bad spot. It’s a pain.”
It’s a pain Dalhausser will not have to deal with. That is for the likes of Benesh and Tri Bourne, Brunner and Taylor Sander, Chase Budinger and Trevor Crabb. Fans, of course, will forever wonder if Dalhausser could stop the Swedes, or the Norwegians. Actually, that’s not quite correct: Most will be convinced that Dalhausser — the Legendary Thin Beast — could, and would, stop them, that he could restore the American men to an Olympic podium, something not seen since Dalhausser himself topped it in Beijing.
As for the Thin Beast himself? He’ll keep playing, because that’s what he knows how to do, and he’ll likely keep winning, because that’s also something he knows how to do better than anyone currently on Tour.
And the Legend of the Thin Beast will continue to grow.